British envoy for Western Balkans: Bosnia is not experiencing a security crisis

NEWS 18.03.2022 09:51
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Source: Armend NIMANI / AFP

"The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is concerning, but it's not a security crisis," Britain's Special Envoy to the Western Balkans, Stuart Peach, said in an interview with Croatian state agency Hina on Friday, warning that Russia's war in Ukraine is "a challenge which must not spill over to the Balkans."

“The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is concerning. Of course, it is a political situation, a political issue, and not a security crisis. We must work together to prevent it from growing into a security crisis,” Peach told Hina.

Air Chief Marshal Peach, who was appointed Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to the Western Balkans in December 2021, said he welcomed the recent increase in the number of EUFOR troops stationed in Bosnia from 600 to 1,100, and said the surge in numbers served as a “visible demonstration of force.” He also condemned Russia’s invasion on Ukraine, describing it as an illegal war.

“We can see clearly the tragic consequences for the Ukrainian people and we should offer support in all possible ways. It includes all the humanitarian aid which Croatia and many other European allies and friends are providing,” Peach said.

Peach enlisted in the Royal Air Force in 1974 and served with them in Belize, Hong Kong, and West Germany. He was also a senior commander at the KFOR mission in Kosovo. From the 2000s Peach held a series of posts in the British Defence Ministry and Nato, and from 2009 to 2011 he commanded British forces which took part in Nato operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Most recently, he was Chairman of the Military Committee at Nato, from 2018 to 2021.

“The war on our continent is a challenge for all of us. We should be ready to work together to prevent the spillover of that war into the western Balkans. I am working with our friends in the region to prevent that scenario,” Peach told Hina.

Officials of the European Union, the United States, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have resumed negotiations with Bosnian politicians to reach an agreement on changes of the country’s constitution and election law, which will pave the way for the continuation of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s journey towards European institutions.

Representatives of the Bosniak people, one of the three constituent peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina, insist that the general elections, due to take place this autumn, could be held in compliance with the existing election legislation, while representatives of the Croats and the Serbs say that there are no prerequisites for legitimate elections if the legislation is not amended. “This is a process which is going on. We are hopeful of successful conclusions of the ongoing negotiations,” Peach said.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is currently a potential candidate for the membership of the European Union. Serbia, a candidate, has been conducting the accession negotiations with the EU for eight years, however, the implementation of the required reforms as well as the relations between Serbia and Kosovo are crucial for the process. Peach said that his government supports the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, with the mediation of the EU special envoy, Miroslav Lajcak.

Serbia is one of the few countries that has not joined the sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. However, Serbia voted for the UN General Assembly’s resolution demanding that Russia immediately end its military operations in Ukraine, which Peach welcomed.

“Great Britain supports all the governments in the region to take the course of the Euro-Atlantic integrations and to come closer to the EU because we think that it offers people in the region the best possible prospects for a future free of war,” he said.

Peach will attend a panel discussion in Zagreb about Great Britain and the Western Balkans in light of the war in Ukraine, which will take place on Friday. He also told Hina that Great Britain would like to contribute to preservation of the stability in the Western Balkans.

“We must take care that the war in Ukraine does not spill over to this region,” he added. Many residents in Bosnia and Herzegovina and many peoples in the region, including the Croatians still have “fresh and deep memories” of the recent wars and conflicts, he said, adding that therefore one of his priorities is to encourage the resolution of the issues such as war crimes and missing persons.

“We will insist on the condemnation of hate speech and of the glorification of all war criminals. We encourage the implementation of all the rulings handed down by national and local courts regarding this matter… British embassies in the countries concerned will continue working on reconciliation in the Western Balkans,” he said.

He also called for new efforts to address the organized crime in the region.

Peach was also asked to comment on the recent crash of a Soviet-made reconnaissance drone which apparently flew more than 600 kilometers from Ukraine to crash in Croatia’s capital Zagreb last week.

“It is on Croatia’s authorities to investigate all the circumstances in connection with this incident… We have high confidence in their ability to do that. The investigation is going on and this is something within the remit of Croatia’s military authorities,” said Peach.

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